“There is a city where 99 percent of all residents believe in their God. This city is packed with diversity, conflicts, beauty and contradiction.” It’s here that two Russian tattoo artists, Poko Chaim and Daniel Bulitchev, chose to set up Bizzart Studios, the oldest tattoo parlour outside the old city walls of Jerusalem. It’s a place where all are welcome, regardless of their religion or nationality.
With his first feature documentary, German director Tom Fröhlich has created an insightful and at times humorous piece that offers a multifaceted portrait of both an artform and a nation with a complex history. He films the tattooing sessions of various customers, who talk candidly about their lives and beliefs; the sessions of a chef, a soldier, and a former gambling addict (amongst others) are punctuated with stunning shots of Jerusalem.
By quickly addressing the initial issue that tattoos are traditionally a big no-no for Jews, Christian Arabs or Muslim Arabs, Fröhlich establishes a thought-provoking correlation between tattooing rituals and religious ones. “The idea behind it is forbidden in our culture”, says one client, meaning that the act of tattooing here becomes an act of rebellion, even if you don’t believe. He has also understood that there is something uniquely mesmerising about watching the tattooing process, shooting it with great care. Most impressively, Ink of Yam grapples with a lot of ideas and does them justice, without delving too deep into conversations about the “true face” of Israel: we understand the layered contradictions of a place where “you need to walk between the raindrops without getting wet”, without the doc clumsily stumbling into issues that could have made it feel unwieldy. The finished film is never judgemental, but deftly touches upon the absurdity of behaviours inherent to fervent belief systems. It joins 2001’s The Mark of Cain as another essential doc about tattooing that uses the artform to speak volumes.
Ink of Yam | Directed by Tom Fröhlich (Germany 2017). Starts May 9.
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